VPNs Are Old: Better Ways to Access Region-Blocked Video

interconnected globe   VPNs Are Old: Better Ways to Access Region Blocked VideoInternet users outside of the United States are blocked from accessing the wealth of streaming video and music content available to Americans. Even Americans are deprived of international services like BBC iPlayer. Faced with this, many people choose VPNs. However, VPNs are not the ideal way to access region-blocked videos and music. There are better ways.

These services allow people outside the USA to pay for videos and music – either with money or with our attention and ads. The alternative is piracy, but we jump through hoops for the ability to access legal services. Media companies should be happy we try to bypass region blocks instead of turning to piracy, and they should be offering great services that we can pay for. As Valve’s Gabe Newell once said, piracy is a service problem.

How VPNs Work (and Why They’re Not Great)

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. When you a connect to a VPN, your computer acts as if it’s on the same local network as the VPN server. When you browse the web through a VPN, your browsing traffic is forwarded through the VPN server. In other words, if you’re in the UK and you connect to a VPN in the United States, websites will see you as browsing from the United States. The VPN server acts as a sort of middleman.

This allows you to use VPNs to access Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and all sorts of other region-restricted media websites. (Although VPNs have other uses, such as connecting to a corporate network on the road.)

However, VPNs aren’t the best way to access region-blocked videos.

  • VPNs are slower than connecting directly to a website. You don’t connect directly to Netflix – the data is sent through the VPN server. This slows things down.
  • While connected to a VPN, all your network traffic will be sent through the VPN. This slows down all your Internet traffic.
  • You’ll want to leave the VPN disconnected because it slows down your connection. When you want to watch a video, you’ll have to connect to the VPN. When you’re done, you’ll want to disconnect.
  • A VPN only works with your computer. It’s a pain to connect to a VPN on your smartphone, tablet, Xbox, or whatever other devices you have hanging around – and many VPN services only allow one connection at a time.
  • If you want to access media services in different countries, you’ll need separate VPN connections for each country. For example, if you finish watching a movie on the US version of Netflix and want to watch Doctor Who on BBC iPlayer, you’ll have to disconnect from the US VPN and connect to a UK VPN.

create a vpn connection on windows 8   VPNs Are Old: Better Ways to Access Region Blocked Video

DNS Services: UnoDNS, Tunlr, & Unblock Us

DNS tunneling solutions are the best way to access region-blocked video and music websites.

To use one of these services, all you have to do is change the DNS server setting on your computer or your router. You can use your Internet connection at its advertised speed. Whenever you access a region-restricted media website, it will just work. You don’t have to connect to a VPN, the media-streaming happens at full speed, you don’t have to tunnel all your Internet traffic, and you can even connect to sites based in multiple countries at once – you could stream both Hulu and BBC iPlayer at the same time, if you liked.

These services work so well that they feel like magic. Configure it on your router and all your computers, game consoles, tablets and smartphones will have access to all the media you like – it’s like living in a magic bubble where no content is region-blocked. You never have to activate anything – it all happens automatically whenever you access a blocked website.

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As James said in our review of UnoDNS, “anytime you access one of the many supported region-locked websites, the UnoDNS servers will perform some intricate packet-level magic that fools the site into thinking you’re located within the boundaries of applicable countries”.

I personally use UnoTelly’s UnoDNS. It’s a paid service, costing $4 or $5 a month, but I gladly pay it every month because the service works so well. Unblock Us is a similar paid service. If you’re looking for something free, you can try Tunlr. Tunlr works well, but it supports fewer services – it doesn’t support Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, although it does work with Hulu.

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Browser Extensions: Media Hint & Hola Unblocker

Media Hint is a browser extension that works in Chrome and Firefox. Install it and you’ll be able to use Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, and Rdio, wherever you are. It’s extremely simple to install and extremely easy to use. It actually just works as a proxy – when you try to access one of these websites, the extension forces your browser to access it through Media Hint’s proxies. It’s seamless, easy-to-use, and free.

However, it only works on these few websites and it will be slower than a DNS-based service, as it’s just a proxy.

hulu region block   VPNs Are Old: Better Ways to Access Region Blocked Video

Hola Unblocker is another media-unblocking service that’s also available as a Chrome or Firefox extension. It only tunnels traffic to media websites (like Netflix), so it doesn’t slow down normal Internet use. Hola says it uses peer-to-peer technology to stay fast, so it shouldn’t slow down when more people discover this service. Like Media Hint, Hola Unblocker is free.

hulu unblocked   VPNs Are Old: Better Ways to Access Region Blocked Video

There are a several free options here: Tunlr for a DNS service or Media Hint or Hola Unblocker for a browser extension. If you just want access to the websites it supports, Tunlr will work for you. The browser extensions won’t give you maximum streaming speeds, so you may not get the highest-definition video playback, but they are free and easy to use.

If you want a service that supports almost any possible media service you can think of, lets you access them at full speed, and works with all your devices, I can recommend UnoDNS. I’ve also heard good things about Unblock Us, although I haven’t tried it myself.

How do you access region-restricted videos and music online? Leave a comment and share your favorite method.

Image Credit: Planet Earth at night via Shutterstock

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64 Comments -

max

I don’t know why it’s taking Big Media so so long to enable services that give viewers what they are looking for. The people have spoken loud and clear. Instead of wasting time and millions running after “piracy”, they should be spending their resources making these region-free services available right now. It would end a lot of the conflict.

dragonmouth

“I don’t know why it’s taking Big Media so so long to enable services that give viewers what they are looking for. The people have spoken loud and clear.”

You are under the mistaken belief that Big Media is here to serve the viewers. Far from it. The viewers exist to provide Big Media with a revenue stream.

wolfshades

The comment stands. You just need to follow the logic: if Big Media “give viewers what they’re looking for” who else gets to benefit besides the viewer? Big Media! Plus, they get more subscribers, thereby increasing their venue stream.

When it comes to marketing, we live in a global village, not artificial borders. Money and profits disdain borders actually.

dragonmouth

The comment does not stand. Maybe in an ideal world. If Big Media “gave the viewers what they’re looking for” there would be no need for this article, we would not be having this discussion and “piracy” would be something that took place on the high seas.

“When it comes to marketing, we live in a global village, not artificial borders.”

If that is true, why are products freely available only in specific markets circumscribed by artificial borders? Why is Hulu only available in the US? If your statement about “money and profits disdaining borders” is true, wouldn’t the purveyors of Hulu want to maximize their profits by having it available all over the world?

Chris Hoffman

It’s a real mess. For example, Show A is available on Hulu in the US, because there’s a copmany with US distribution rights. In other countries, other companies have exclusive distribution rights to Show A. So for Hulu to show Show A in every country on Earth, they’d need to deal with 50+ different owners of the rights.

That said, content creators need to figure this out. Deals like this one are part of the past. They need to focus on giving people good, well-priced, legal services, not pushing strict anti-piracy laws.

Datalove

Well this article is rather misleading. I’ve used several different VPN’s with out much, if any, loss of speed. I max out at 19.89 Mbps with out a VPN and connected VIA openVPN I max out at 19.56 Mbps. Most reputable VPNs aim to satisfy maximum speeds at all times.

Windows, OSX, Linux, Android and iOS come with built in VPN support. One time setup and you’re good to go. Game consoles are a different story.

VPN’s are also great for preventing ISP and wifi snooping since all data is sent through an encrypted tunnel. They can see that you’re transmitting data, but it’s all gibberish and useless. Also, good VPN’s offer extremely good firewalls on their end. Not all VPNs are of the same quality (especially free ones). You can’t categorize all VPNs together.

Browser addons are convenient, but usually end up useless once the websites wiseup and decide to block it. UnoTelly’s UnoDNS well set you back $60 a year for a very VERY simple task. Whereas a service like privateinternetaccess(My current VPN) will cost you $40 a year with much more utility in the long run.

And some of your other free recommendations involve tunneling VIA proxy which slows down speed considerably (Your arguments against VPNs apparently) and trusting your DNS settings to someone other then openDNS, Google or your ISP is questionable in itself.

Guy McDowell

I have to agree with Datalove. Simply using another server as your DNS server isn’t necessarily better than using a VPN/Proxy.

In addition, ISP’s that provide the modem/router to their customers are starting to change the firmware so that the user can’t change the DNS service they want to use.

Any method used to represent your device as being from a different region than it really is, is a method of circumventing measures taken to protect copyright, and is, therefore, piracy.

Oron Joffe

While a VPN _server_ should be able to cope with your connection’s speed, it still adds a “hop” to the route your packets travel, and typically this will be a goodly number of hops, so it _does_ slow down your connection, or at least increase its latency substantially. That’s not to say VPN’s are no good – they are excellent tools, particularly if you are worried about snooping, but they are not the only answer, and I for one was happy to learn about the “magic DNS” approach.

Guy McDowell

A VPN doesn’t necessarily add anymore hops than using a DNS that isn’t your ISP’s.
Stay tuned for an article that will explain this…tomorrow!

Chris Hoffman

VPN is ideal for tackling snooping, no doubt. However, this isn’t really about snooping, it’s about watching Hulu and Netflix!

Unfortunately, VPNs aren’t ideal for streaming. If I have a VPN enabled all the time, all my web traffic is delayed. It’s not just about speed, it’s about latency.

If I have a VPN used on my computer, I can’t use the same service on other computers, tablets, smartphones, game consoles, etc. The DNS solution works really well. it’s automatic and only proxies certain types of data requests, giving you full streaming speeds and normal low-latency connections to normal websites. I don’t have to think about it at all.

Comradde PhysioProffe

This is exactly correct. VPN solutions are *much* better than what the author of this post suggests.

Comradde PhysioProffe

This is exactly correct. VPN solutions are *much* better than what the author of this post suggests.

Alberto Lerma

Hola Unblocker works great!.

Catherine McCrum

So glad to know of more choices. Have been using the VPN for a few years now and it does really slow everything down. Will try out the other services soon. Thanks

Junil Maharjan

most of the alternatives are for browser-based. are there any that supports mobile devices?

Chris Hoffman

DNS solutions work for mobile devices.

Nevzat Akkaya

Endless war between blockers and freedom’ers :)

Tahmid

Chris Hoffman

Interesting, thanks!

Chris Hoffman

I may just try switching to Tunlr now. Can’t argue with free…

Mac Witty

I have used Netshade from Rayner Software on Mac for a while and it works very well. You can choose between proxy and VPN or combine. I have tested UK, US Germany and France so far and got what I wanted. Not free

froman

This is all well and dandy and for a person that is only half a geek and not understanding all of this, I am in the US and want to watch shows from Canada or England. BTW, I love Dr. Who. The only way I can see it is using VUZE to download it. How about identifying which sites are helpful for US viewers to see overseas programs. I went to the sites you mention and they are to help Non US to view US stuff.
Thanks.

Russ B.

My problem is the opposite of this. I actually paid for a service last year and could not get it, most the time, because I lived too close. Anyone within a few hundred miles or more of their favorite sports team and having a MLB service knows what I mean. You are blacked-out. This was my 1st time with this service and it was useless without going through an out-of-country proxy. It will also be the last time paying for this service unless there’s a better work around. Proxy servers where most the time too slow. Any other solutions here?

Oron Joffe

Well, the solutions described above, such as UnoDNS, should still work. Have you tried them?

Spencer Taylor

@choffman this is a great article; however, there are some serious issues you have with either your understanding or description of VPN’s – my guess is description. There are MANY types of VPN’s, The types of VPN’s that slow down streaming media and cause the types of problems you are speaking about in the article are low-level service providers like Cyberghost or Hotspot Shied. A hardware VPN had very low overhead AND will not slow down or stop HD content from streaming at true 1080p. I use one everyday. While DNS is ONE way to accomplish this, a hardware VPN offers so much more security AND allows you to do all of things mentioned in your article. Note, I am not “nitpicking” and I understand that most people will not setup a hardware VPN that encrypts data on the fly, but from a security standpoint, DNS routing is trivial.

Chris Hoffman

Any VPN will add additional latency. If you’re connected all the time, you’re going to see increased latency while browsing the web, playing games, etc. So the solution is to manually disconnect and reconnect when you want to use the VPN. You’d also have to manualy toggle between US-based and UK-based VPNs. It’s just not as convenient.

On the other hand, VPNs are ideal for privacy.

Spencer Taylor

@ Chris, this is a very good point. For me, going sans VPN is not an option; however, for many people, a DNS workaround is a great way to go. IMHO, I prefer the slight drop in net performance vs the security benefits, but that is really outside the box of viewing region blocked content.

riverboy

Top article, myself I use Unblock Us at $A29/year I have no complaints. Pity is the people who should be reading these types of articles don’t.

Jim

To say it streams blocked sites faster is a joke. The way it works in a non technical sense is that it acts as a selective proxy server just for those sites. For the blocked sites you still incur any overhead or slowdown just as you would with a proxy server or a VPN. How fast you stream has to do with whether you are using a good or a crappy proxy service.

The benefit to the DNS service is that your sites that aren’t blocked do not incur that overhead. This article brings up a good alternative service but is way too fanboyish.

Chris Hoffman

It’s “fanboyish” because it honestly works extremely well. I don’t buy that it slows all the traffic down the same way; it appears to only proxy certain types of requests. It’s faster in my experience than paid VPNs.

Jim

It’s effectively a type of proxy server combined with DNS so that is specific to certain sites only. It’s a nice one and an elegant way of doing it but that’s all it is. They are not working some super advanced “magic” on the packets as the article state. Any generic proxy service with equivalent resources per user is faster than a VPN. It may very well be the fastest proxy service out there but if so it is simply because they have more or better placed resources allocated per subscriber.

The article also confuses this with DNS tunneling. That’s where you encapsulate all your tcp packets as dns packets to slip by a firewall that is blocking traffic.

A valid review would be that you found what you thought was a cool proxy-type service and at least in Canada it gave great performance. Instead it came across as a press release for the vendor and it made it sound much more mysterious and capable than it really is.

Damon Osborne

For BBC iplayer I use Expat Shield from Anchor Free. Free and it works well from France, Turkey and India.
http://www.expatshield.com

Anonymous

Expat shield works fine with iplayer but slows down a bit. I also use proxydns.co DNS service. Its free and nice. They say its a cloud based proxy DNS. Can anybody explain what that means???

Ă‚dil FarĂ´Ă´q

Simply changing a Dns is not enough i use VPN and quit satisfied with its performance as of now Youtube is blocked in my country so i tried to change my DNS but it didn’t helped at all but on VPN it opens and uses the full speed.
Thanks

Chris Hoffman

Yes, DNS-based services don’t generally do YouTube

Anonymous

this is unbelievable, I have been using the internet since 1993, and this article just shows that what was once a free innovative place, stimulating exchange of knowledge, has become regulated and restricted throughout the world. I myself possess enough knowledge to bypass all of this nonsense, but why do people feel the need to lay claim to territories, even “virutal” ones. None of us have control over birth and death ultimately (we are all subjected to these parameters), so why are we so obsessed with delaying the progress of society’s eveolution?

Marija-Ira Pletikos

I love Tunlr. works like charm.

Anonymous

Is there a way to unblock sites blocked by campus Wi-Fi network?

dragonmouth

There probably is but sites are blocked by schools for a reason, mostly security. All network traffic is logged and the campus IT department could get nasty if they find you are bypassing their blocks. You may face anything from a reprimand to an expulsion from school. Do you think it is worth taking a chance on bypassing campus blocks?

Karen Ang

I use UnoTelly and it works great although it eats up all the bandwidth of my 3rd world connection

Avisek Nandi

i will try out unodns

Kevin Wiley

I was very interested in this article since I have been in China and will continue to be here for another 6 months. I must agree with many of the comments left here. I signed up for the Gold Package. I went through the set up with no problems. Changing the DNS did allow me to view Hulu and the speed was a little better. But my Searches defaulted to Hong Kong which didn’t help at all. I then setup the add on VPN service which basically does the same thing my other VPN service does but about $10 less. I sent a support ticket but never heard back. I ended up switching back to OpenDNS and StrongVPN service. Reliable Hosting and StrongVPN have the best support I have ever encountered and is worth the $10 per month to me.
Canceling UnoDNS account because here in China it’s not equal to what I already have and Support is utmost important for me with something as serious as connecting to the US.

Chris Hoffman

In China you’d definitely want a VPN to get around the great firewall, I think

Kevin Wiley

Hello Chris. Yes, you are so right must use a VPN Connection here in China. Just to update, I received a detailed support response from UnoTelley on exactly which DNS servers to use and that being in China to defenitley setup and use their VPN connection. The support email did take a couple of days but that could have been from increased exposure from your article.
Thanks again for your post.
-Kevin

Nancy B

So as a green horn at this, which way to I go for free? The browser extension on Chrome browser or a VPN or what?

Chris Hoffman

Tunlr or perhaps one of the browser extensions.

Ajax Fox

Insightful article. Some great advice here to help the adverage to high end user sort out whats best for them…thanks again!

Gregori Gualdron

Im using Unblock-Us and it works pretty well. It even allowed me to access to Google content. Right now im using a free 7 days trial they offer, and so far so good. After that I’ll cost $4.99 monthly.

Juanita Hiscock

Can a service like dyndns.com work?

Jorge Saborio

Doesn’t this really suck? You have access to the world wide web for unlimited information… and all the sudden the media companies want to impose to you what you can or cannot see, based on where you are. I´d gladly pay for content if I can see what I want. Even youtube has “differentiated” contact for people outside the US. These practices simply promote the use of torrents and peer to peer sites.

ste bar

It is all very well to write an informative item but did you use this service for a period of time? If you saw their own pages, people were complaining about service and lack of response from them. I am grateful I did not give them some money.48 hrs is more than enough to receive a reply from a company site, Next time please remind them you are using them in an article, they might shift themselves if they knew :-)

Carmen Qing

Is there any free ways to access region-blocked WEBSITEs? Please recommend, THX in advance.

DariaWilen

To access Region blocked video’s I use “Hotspot Shield” Free VPN for Android. It doesn’t slow my internet speed as well it help’s me saving my mobile bill. It saves my mobile bill because it supports data compression. Check it here – http://www.freevpn-android.com/

Deirdra Murphy

More great options! I think you are right on target with UnoDns, and I love that it works on all devices! Great article, and some great comments as well! Cheers!

Brian Carr

great thanks media hint works great on chrome (in the uk)

Errol M

This article is fine for someone wanting to watch US content when away from home. However I want to watch Australian content. What about DNS services in other countries. Not everyone comes from the US.

Henree Arriola de Garcia

Great article and great comments.
thanks everyone!

Faizan Ali

I think it depends on the VPN service you are using, I agree that most of them are slow but some of them are very fast when it comes to streaming… it all depends on what VPN you choose… i have been using this VPN service which has a split tunneling feature.. what it does is that it divides half of the bandwidth to the application i want to use.. for e.g youtube or netflix that way i can enjoy good streaming all the time.

Faizan Ali

Here is the link of the VPN Provider i was talking about earlier. http://bit.ly/ZmonUL

taqiya

youtube unblocker automatically adds a link to play the blocked videos.Thw unblocked videos opens in a new tab via a proxy site and thus the video is submitted and will start playing.

Ezra A.

So, I have two questions.

YouTube is blocked at my campus. Can I use VPN solutions to access the blocked sites over the WiFi provided by my campus? Can the admins at Systems Department of my campus check which sites I have visited? Because, after all, I am connected to VPN via the WiFi provided by them in the first place?

Ezra A.

So, I have two questions.

YouTube is blocked at my campus. Can I use VPN solutions to access the blocked sites over the WiFi provided by my campus? Can the